Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has come with many tragic consequences, including the deaths of innocent people and the destruction of buildings with no strategic value, as the world watches. President Biden and other world leaders decry the hostile and unprovoked acts, and they’ve provided humanitarian aid and economic measures meant to hamstring the country’s leaders and oligarchs financially. Sports organizations have also not stood on the sidelines, with the IOC issuing statements during the Paralympics and FIFA trying to figure out its approach.
Russian teams banned from competition
FIFA disinvited the Russian team from World Cup qualifying while Europe’s governing body banned Russian clubs from playing international soccer for an indefinite period. After some hemming and hawing, FIFA followed its move by announcing that foreign players on Russian teams could suspend their contracts and play the remainder of the European soccer season with other clubs.
Players can leave (at least temporarily)
The New York Times estimated that the decision would affect about 100 players. But as of now, the players would then need to return to their old team on June 30 or negotiate their official exit. A related arrangement applies to all Ukrainian players, enabling them to play elsewhere. FIFA’s Russia ruling falls short of an indefinite expulsion of Russian teams that 40 leagues, unions and competitions asked soccer’s global governing body to sanction. Conversely, Russian soccer officials argue that FIFA does not have the legal power to eject their teams from matches.
Things are complicated
These moves and counter moves have added turmoil to the upcoming qualifying matches and likely the World Cup in Qatar this November. Russia was in a bracket with Sweden, Poland and the Czech Republic – all three teams had announced before FIFA’s decision that they would not play Russia. Poland will receive a bye of a March 29 match and then play the winner of Sweden and the Czech Republic. Pressure is also mounting, with a dozen teams involved in the tournament also expressing similar sentiments.
Ukraine’s match scheduled for March 24 with Scotland is pushed back to an existing June window, with subsequent rounds that involve Austria and Wales (who are also in their bracket) also delayed with the full support of the other teams.
Setting aside the tragedy and loss of life in Ukraine for a minute, it seems that FIFA is in a spot similar to the IOC trying to maintain control over its competition as world affairs complicate matters. Whatever the war’s outcome, it’s a safe bet that Russia will not play, but it seems more due to the other teams than strong leadership from FIFA.